If I love God and want to obey Him, why would I ever be vulnerable to follow the flesh? Paul has just explained the profound changes that take place inside me when I repent and believe. He says the rebellion in my spirit is gone. Ive been set free (Ro 8:2). Yes, he also says my flesh is still there with all its emotions and appetites, and as we saw last week (Two Minds) my physical brain with its programmed patterns of thinking and subconscious influences is part of that flesh. But he says I dont have to fight this battle alone anymore. Because of the cross my body is now a holy temple so the Spirit of God has come and dwells inside me. Ive got all the power I need.
So why dont I always obey God? What causes good Christians to make dumb choices? Given all Paul has taught us youd think we would live perfect lives. But we dont. Theres a missing piece to this puzzle. And I think its time to talk about him.
When we look at Jesus temptation in Matthew 4 we are reminded that there is another player in this equation. The devil does come to deceive us, and the temptation to listen to him was very real even for Jesus. So, though our will is now set to obey God we can still be deceived into making poor choices. To understand how this can happen lets recall how he tempted Jesus.
The first Christian (Mt 3:13-17)
Before we examine these temptations we should address a concern. Can we really think of Jesus as a model for the Christian life, or because He is the Son of God was He so different from us that we can only admire Him but never hope to be like Him? Without going into a lot of discussion on this subject we need to understand that Jesus really did become a man. At all times He refused to exercise His own divine powers (Mt 26:53). He functioned entirely as a man who was baptized in the Holy Spirit. Yes, He did it all perfectly, but that means we can look at His life and see the potential of how we could minister. Of course, as the only-begotten Son of God He is the only one who could die for our sins, but in terms of ministry and temptation (Heb 4:15) He was a man drawing on the power of the Spirit, obeying the Spirit and walking in faith just as you and I are called to do. He is our best model. In that sense, He is the first Christian.
Jesus temptations (Mt 4:1-11)
1) Impatience (4:1-4): The decision to meet a very real need in my life without waiting for Gods guidance.
I cant wait any longer. God is too slow. I have to take matters into my own hands.
Jesus answer: No, Ill wait until He speaks. I know Hell provide for Me.
Deuteronomy 8:1-10 - You will be tempted to doubt God, but He has promised to take care of you, and will in His own way and time. He has abundance planned for you.
2) Presumption (4:5-7): The decision to force God to keep His promise.
I challenge God to prove that He loves me. Its based in distrust. Maybe He really doesnt love me. Maybe Im a fool to trust Him like this.
Jesus answer: Hes in charge, not Me. I submit and will follow His lead.
Deuteronomy 6:16-25 (note: v23)
Exodus 17:1-3 You brought us out
to kill us
They quarreled with God. Harsh circumstances caused them to doubt His love.
3) Distraction (4:8-10): I become so focused on the pleasures and responsibilities of the life He has given me that I neglect my relationship with Him.
Riches and the cares of life drain away my passion to worship Him (even the cares of ministry)
Jesus answer: Glorifying God is more important to Me than success in this world.
Deuteronomy 6:10-13 - Dont forget the Lord when you have an abundance and dont need Him anymore.
Does the devil come to believers, and can he deceive us into believing a lie? Yes, my heart loves God, but my perspective on matters is incomplete. I know in part
I see in a mirror dimly (1Co 13:9, 12), so I can end up doing the wrong thing by doing what seems right to me at the time. I think what Im doing is right, necessary, common sense
while actually Im being lured back into bondage, though I never intended to go there.
The devil doesnt come out and say, Hey you! Lets do bad stuff!at least not to a believer. He disguises the temptation. He wraps it in the best intentions. We give ourselves permission to do something that seems acceptable under the circumstances, harmless, necessary. And then, naively, I become entrapped again
wondering how on earth I got here.
If I know the devil will come to tempt me like he did Jesus, and I know hell disguise the truth in his attempt to deceive me, then how can I protect myself? Again, we find the answer by observing Jesus. How did He overcome these temptations?
1) Notice: Jesus did not rely on His heart. He didnt look inside to see if He felt peaceful about it. Thats because its too easy to confuse Gods peace with the relief we feel when we decide to stop resisting a temptation. Deception is a subtle spell that comes over us. We become genuinely confused.
2) He stayed firmly in touch with Gods will by trusting the clear statements of Scripture more than the reasonings in His mind: It is written
It is written
It is written
The devil is capable of casting a spell in which we become confused and our will subverted. Jesus broke that spell by quoting Scripture which brought His thoughts back to the truth. This is our defense as well. To use it:
1) We must humbly acknowledge we are deceivable. Even the best of us, with the best of intentions can be lured back into disobedience, and all the troubles that come with it. We must avoid being too confident in our own powers of discernment or the rightness of our motives.
2) We must recognize that Gods love for us does not mean we will escape this process of temptation. Its actually part of His plan. He guides us into situations where our heart will be tested.
3) We must regularly read the Word and memorize key verses. In the heat of temptation we must have these readily available to turn to. The Word is an anchor that stops us from drifting unnoticed. We too must be able to say, It is written
So temptation comes to a believer from different sources: the biological pressures from our bodies; the wounds and old patterns of thought still resident in our physical brains. But at times there can also be a spiritual source. Someone who stands outside of us but whos able to whisper into our thoughts or speak through another person. Someone who wants to cloud our thinking and lure us into doing the wrong thing while leaving our conscience in tact so well think were doing the right thing.
But Jesus modeled for us how to escape his deception. He knew the Word and quoted it and clung to it until the devil left Him
and behold angels came and began to minster to Him (Mt 4:11). We can do the same.
1) Has the devil ever deceived you into doing the wrong thing while you actually thought you were doing the right thing? When did you discover your error? How did that experience change you?
2) Which of the temptations of Jesus can you relate to the most: impatience, presumption or distraction? Give us an example if youre comfortable doing so.
3) Do you have verses of Scripture memorized? Quote one that you turn to often. What does your heart hear when you quote it?